AGENT JOHNNY RED – Album Review: “Run Against the Sequence”

Agent Johnny Red album art

Agent Johnny Red is an electronic musician, singer-songwriter and composer based in Portland, Maine. He’s been fairly prolific in his music output over the past five years or so, recording and releasing several singles, EPs and compilations, most of which are available on his Bandcamp page. At the end of May, he dropped his first official album Run Against the Sequence, a concept work inspired by his own personal life experiences.

He explained that the album “is about how humans get stuck in recurring behavior patterns or programs that are based upon past events. This is an album about Agent Johnny Red running against the sequence or patterns that were ultimately controlling his life. Addiction to bad relationships, food and drugs are all part of the sequence.” He added that the word ‘Against’ stands for how difficult it is to overcome these bad habits: “Kind of like an Alfred Hitchcock movie, no matter what you do you can’t escape it. But the character in this story does eventually escape at the end.”

The album opens with sounds of a man speaking the words “I won’t deny that there’s some strange, evolutionary process going on, but mankind won’t be destroyed. The fact that you and I are already here today is evidence of that“, and thus begins the first track “Just keep Repeating“. Agent Johnny Red uses an array of dark, yet beautiful swirling synths set to a pulsating EDM beat to create a mysterious atmosphere that conveys a feeling of being in a kind of twilight zone. Eventually, the man’s voice returns to say “Another day is done all over again.” “Figure out this Mess” has an equally ominous vibe, with harsh swooping and pulsating industrial synths forming a psychedelic backdrop for Johnny Red’s droning moody vocals.

On “Lightning in a Black Hole“, Johnny Red seems to be speaking to someone who can save him from himself and his troubles: “Tell me what you want me to be. I’ll tell you I’m all that I can ever be. / I just want to go out for a drive. Just to see the sky. I know it’s crazy, but we’ll be fine if we forget about time.” I really like the lush combination of synth sounds and textures he uses in this and other tracks, and how well his music pairs with his vulnerable, rather melancholy vocals.

The album features a number of terrific instrumental tracks, including “Videodrome“, with its fascinating mix of synthwave, sci-fi, EDM and dubstep elements; the uptempo and otherworldly “Destination of Red“; the mesmerizing, psychedelic and spacey “Save Some Space“; the techno-heavy “Survival is Changes“; and one of my favorites “Don’t Destroy the Water“, a wonderful futuristic fantasia of swirling sci-fi synths and haunting female chorale-like vocal drones, set to captivating dubstep beats.

The title track “Run Against the Sequence” encapsulates everything the album is about, which is the struggle to reach a point of mental clarity and emotional freedom from bad habits and addictions that have kept you enslaved: “Every step that I take will get me closer to awake. Every love that you find will get you closer to rewind. I know that time’s confusing. What if it’s an illusion?” Musically, the song has a haunting piano-driven melody, with a colorful mix of wobbly and stabbing synths, accompanied by hand claps.

Hack Time (You Work Harder)” has an eerie, almost goth-like vibe, with throbbing industrial synths set to a hypnotic rhythmic beat. The tinkling piano keys add a nice textural contrast, keeping the track from sounding too dark.  Johnny Red’s electronically-altered echoed vocals sound pained as he laments of wanting to feel better and be free of his demons and addictions that offer only temporary relief from the pain: “Break free from the things in your brain. / You fell asleep at the wheel. You’re happy when you can feel. You’re happy when you heal. / I just wanna move around the sequence. I just wanna hack time.” It’s another one of my favorite tracks on the album.

Save the Light” is the point of escape, when Johnny finds the truth in the pain of not succumbing to addiction. His vocals are auto-tuned, giving them an even more haunting feel as he sings of being trapped by his addiction, and wanting to break free. ‘Seven seas’ are a metaphor for his freedom: “Back when you thought you could be everything, you saw something great in the seven seas. You ran benediction through your head but addiction had you dead. But you were here and you were sure that if you come back to the seven seas. Come back and let me be. I believe this is a dream come true.” He realizes he needs to be strong, keeping freedom from addiction at the forefront of his goals: “Think the way that you can feel. Fight the urge to make the deal. All these scars that will not heal are just dreams, they are not real.”

Yet he continues to struggle with self-doubt and guilt over pain he’s caused others: “No I don’t want to go back home. I want to stay on this earth. I wanna stay on this earth but you keep killing it. I am telling you I don’t want to see them die. I don’t want to see them cry just so I can feel alive.” He ultimately comes to the realization that he wants to live a life free from addiction: “And if I save the light, then the dark might take me tonight. And on the seven seas everything might be alright.” Johnny Red uses complex and lush industrial and psychedelic synths and some lovely guitar notes to create a somber, yet hopeful mood. It’s a magnificent and moving track.

The album closes on a more upbeat and positive note with “A Puzzled Picture“. The track has a lighthearted vibe, thanks to a lively mix of skittering spacey synths. The man’s spoken voice we heard on the opening track returns to offer a few lines of wisdom, though I’m unable to make out exactly what he’s saying.

Not being a musician, nor very knowledgeable about music theory, technique or mechanics, it’s often hard for me to fully articulate what I hear when listening to electronic music. That said, I have nevertheless written about quite a lot of it, and can confidently state that Run Against the Sequence is in the top tier of electronic music albums I’ve reviewed. Agent Johnny Red is a highly creative, talented and imaginative composer, as well as thoughtful songwriter, and should be very proud of his latest work. This is an album that requires a couple of close listens to fully appreciate all of it’s many nuances, but you will be rewarded for your effort.

Follow Agent Johnny Red on Instagram
Stream/purchase his music on BandcampSpotify / Google PlayApple Music

BLOOM DE WILDE – Album Review: “The Heart Shall Be Rewarded by the Universe”

Bloom de Wilde album art

Bloom de Wilde is a London-based singer-songwriter, producer and visual artist with a fascinating and eccentric avant garde sound. Born in the Netherlands to a Dutch artist mother and an Indonesian father who lead his own traditional Indonesian music ensemble known as Gamelan, Bloom’s experiences growing up in a multi-ethnic environment led her to develop an innovative and imaginative approach to her music. Drawing from an eclectic mix of influences by some of her favorite artists such as Radiohead, Jeff Buckley, Tom Waits, Björk, Billie Holiday, Chet Baker, Nina Simone and Toxic Chicken, Bloom fuses elements of dream, ethno and experimental art pop, folk and jazz with unconventional melodies and a rich mix of instruments to create exuberant, colorful soundscapes that transport us to exotic, faraway places. Moreover, her unusual and distinctive vocal style has earned her comparisons to Joanna Newsom, Kate Bush and Björk.

Bloom De Wilde2

Bloom has been writing and recording songs for several years, and some of her older tracks can be found on her Soundcloud account. In July 2019, she began releasing a series of singles, starting with “Soul Siren”, which won both the International Songwriting Award for best female singer songwriter, and the UK Songwriting Competition for Best Video. That October, she followed up with “Rock, Plant & Animal”, a hopeful ode to nature and earth. That song won the Alternative Friday Award for best Folk & Art-pop track. She later released two more singles “Atlas Cassandra” and “Do & Be”, and on June 12, dropped her debut album The Heart Shall Be Rewarded by the Universe.

Released via Dream Society Records, the album features those four tracks plus two others. I asked her why she’s calling it an album when it contains only six tracks. She responded that “format-wise it’s an EP, but content-wise it’s definitely an album.” The songs were written and arranged by Bloom, who sang all vocals and played several instruments including piano, Fender Rhodes electric piano, guitar, harmonium, glockenspiel, organ and synth programming. The tracks were co-produced by her and Nick Trepka and Sam Ritchie, who also played some of the instruments. In addition, ten other musicians played various instruments on the album, including flugelhorn, kora, viola, violin, trumpet, trombone, saxophone, tuba and double bass, all contributing to the songs’ lush, dreamy sounds.

About the album, Bloom explains: “These songs have all been inspired by the human beings and cats that are closest to my heart; and as we are all the Universe perceiving itself through infinite subjective perspectives, I feel it is via the Heart that the Universe speaks. In these strange and challenging liminal times, I feel it is possible for us to create a new reality – a life-sustaining harmonious world where people are kind and generous to all earthlings, human or animal, and look after the planet and it’s plant life with love and care. This album is an invitation to celebrate life in all its wondrous, colourful exuberance. Let’s sing, dance, dream, paint, play and meow a new world into existence.

Bloom opens her album with “Soul Siren“, a delightful song of love. Employing an exotic and lush array of instruments, highlighted by soulful trumpet and shimmery notes from a West African kora, she fashions an enchanting backdrop for her quirky vocals. She uses her voice like another instrument, reaching almost childlike high notes as her voice sweetly coos, then soars with an emotion-filled confidence in the choruses.  She sings of her strong emotional and physical connection with her beloved – she’s the siren to her soulmate: “I will show you all the secret hearts I’ve hidden in my chest. We could now do all the things that we always wanted to, but never dared. I’m all yours, your Soul Siren.”

On the pleasing and catchy “Do & Be“, Bloom urges us to just live our lives as simply and honestly as possible, keeping in touch with the real world and the natural beauty around us, and not overthink everything: “Sleepers should be dreamers, oh i know It’s so obvious it drives me crazy.” The colorful and whimsical video she made for the song showcases her creativity and playfulness.

Atlas Cassandra” has a rather dark spiritual vibe, with Bloom sounding like a high priestess as she croons against a dramatic and mysterious backdrop of tinkling xylophone, somber drumbeats and soaring strings. The captivating “Rock, Plant & Animal” is a beautiful, uplifting tribute to earth and nature. She explained her inspiration for the song: “I wrote this song for my children, about this living Earth I love so dearly, and all the precious life upon it. I believe everything in this world has a living essence, a soul, and all is connected. We are all One – Rock, Plant and Animal.” (You can read my detailed review here.)

The exuberant anthem “Animal Spirit” was written in 2018, and in a sense could be considered Bloom’s theme song. It expresses her philosophy – her inherent ‘animal spirit’ if you will – of her reverence for earth and all living things, and how she chooses to conduct her life on this planet, promoting respect for life in all its myriad forms: “I won’t stop, I’ll never give up. I’m inside this eternal movement. I will not be held back by darkness or heaviness. Never, never cease to be driven by the heart, by the art, the magic and the marvellous.”

Pale Moon, Golden Light” is a tender and languid ballad, with a more stripped-down sound consisting of only piano and light percussion. Bloom softly croons to a boy with assurances that her love can calm the savage beast in him: ” What’s the matter with you boy? Madness strikes under your window with a sword. Climbing up & down the ladder. Who is there? I’m there. / Could it be that you’re the one for me?

The Heart Shall Be Rewarded by the Universe is an utterly enchanting and eccentric little album that’s unlike anything I’ve ever heard by any other artist. Bloom de Wilde is a brilliant, creative and innovative artist, though I can imagine that her style and sound might not appeal to everyone. But if you like music that’s colorful, avant garde and thoroughly unique, you will enjoy this album.

Connect with Bloom:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream her music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Google Play

BEATING HEARTS CLUB – Single Review: “Round the Bend”

I first learned about Sydney, Australia-based indie rock band Beating Hearts Club two months ago when they reached out to me about their gorgeous single “Black & White Love“. Comprising the band are Duncan Welsh (vocals/rhythm guitar), Ciaran Loughran (lead guitar/backing vocals), Peter Holt (drums) and Lukas Thurner (bass).  Even though they’ve released only two songs, I was impressed by their beautiful sound, intelligent songwriting and outstanding musicianship, and became an instant fan. “Black & White Love” is a stunning love ballad (you can read my review here) that’s currently enjoying a long residency on my Weekly Top 30.

Now Beating Hearts Club return with their third single “Round the Bend“, which along with “Heroin” and “Black & White Love”, will be included on their forthcoming debut album, due out later this year. With its rousing melody and catchy, toe-tapping beat, the song has more of a folk-rock feel than their two previous songs. The fuzz-coated jangly guitars are terrific, and I really like the subtle organ work that gives the track a bit of a folk vibe. Thurner’s solid bass line and Holt’s pounding drumbeats keep the driving rhythm, ensuring that the song stays firmly in rock territory, and the guitar solo in the bridge is so good. As always, Welsh’s vibrant vocals are wonderful as he plaintively sings the lyrics that seem to me to be about difficulties with commitment “Chase me round the bend. Thought I’d never see the end.”

“Round the Bend” is a great song, keeping Beating Hearts Club’s perfect score for delivering superb singles fully intact. I love every one of their singles, and look forward to hearing more from this exceptional band.

Follow Beating Hearts Club: Facebook / Instagram
Stream their music: Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase: Google Play / Amazon

NATH JACKSON – EP Review: “Dreamers & Deceivers”

Nath Jackson

June 5th was a popular day for new music releases, and I’ve been writing about a fair amount of it over the past few days. My latest entry is the new EP Dreamers & Deceivers by British singer-songwriter and guitarist Nath Jackson. I first learned about the talented Leeds-based artist last summer when I reviewed an EP by electronic music project The Ocean Beneath that he collaborated on. He co-wrote and sang the lyrics on two of the tracks on that EP, and I was really impressed with his beautiful vocals.

Nath has now released a collection of songs with his own debut EP. Once again, he collaborated with The Ocean Beneath, who produced the EP. Backing vocals were sung by his brother Aaron Jackson, with drums performed by Karl Rigby. The EP contains four tracks, the first of which, “Oncoming Storm“, was released as a single last December (you can read my review here). It’s a hauntingly beautiful number, highlighted by Nath’s gorgeous strummed acoustic guitar, melancholy but lovely piano keys, and gentle cymbals evoking waves crashing on the shore in advance of an oncoming storm. His smooth, clear vocals are urgent yet comforting as he sings to someone afraid of committing themselves to love or even to life, for fear of being hurt: “But it’s all too little too late. If life’s a game then you better play. From the upside to the down. The lost and the found. You better move soon before you hit the ground. And they’ve all got something to say. Waiting for those better days. From the love that you choose. There spreading out the news. Where do you go when you got nothing to lose? Nothing to lose.”

Setting Sun” was one of the songs he co-wrote and sang for The Ocean Beneath’s EP. Their version had a lush and mesmerizing synthwave approach in the style of Giorgio Moroder, whereas Nath’s version is more stripped-down, with stunning layered acoustic and electric guitars, drums and gentle orchestral synths. Both are wonderful and I love them equally. I love the sound of his vocals as sings of someone trying their damnedest to avoid committing to love: “Well you may be the last one standing. The devil’s on your tail but you keep on graspin’. Sail your dreams out to the sea. Pulling on the line and bring them home to me. The love light and watch it shine. And I won’t stop until you are mine. You don’t know what you’ve become. And you can’t hide behind the setting sun.”

The Beatles-esque “Blink of an Eye” starts off with just Nath’s piano keys and plaintive vocals, then the music gradually builds with added percussion, strings and guitar to become a beautiful, uplifting anthem. With his brother Aaron’s soaring chorus in the background, Nath entreats a loved one about what I’m guessing is an attempt to try and get their relationship back on the right track: “Maybe there ain’t time to look back. Trying to keep peace of mind. Staying on the right track. Well I guess no one’s to blame. Or in other words, stop sliding away, before it hurts. You keep on coming in and out of my head. Wanna say the things the things that are better left unsaid. We can dance under the moon. I’ll be your fool. Make up our own rules. Staring deep into space. And we’ll watch the world go by. Within the blink of an eye.

The title track “Dreamers & Deceivers” has an edgier folk-rock vibe, with a lively guitar-driven melody. I like the mix of acoustic and swirling electric guitars, and the organ adds a nice textural sound to the proceedings. The lyrics speak of both parties coming to the realization that their relationship is broken beyond repair, and it’s time to end things and move on: “Fingertips away but oceans apart. An exit to an overplayed part. As you stand, you dream and deceive your way to the end of the line. Hit the road always the first to say, it’s time now baby, bye, bye, bye. The air that you breathe, the money you need, it feels like you’re gonna explode. Hold on to one last look. It’s high time I gotta go, go, go, go go.”

Dreamers & Deceivers is a terrific little EP, and my only criticism is that I wish it had more than just four tracks. Nath is a fine songwriter, guitarist and vocalist, and I could listen to his pleasing music for hours. For now, I’ll just have to play his EP on repeat until he releases more music.

Follow Nath: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music on Spotify / Soundcloud/ Apple Music
Purchase on Bandcamp / Google Play

HEAVENLY FADED – Single Review: “CTRL”

Heavenly Faded

New York City band Heavenly Faded has been making some really fine melodic alt-rock since forming in early 2018. They released their debut EP Set Your Sights that May, then followed up over the next year and a half with several outstanding singles. With the release of their song “Constellations” in November 2019, however, they broke the hearts of their fans with the announcement they were splitting up, after their drummer and lead vocalist decided to leave the band. Thankfully, the two remaining members, guitarist/vocalist LP Francisco and bassist Rijk van Zanten, were able to quickly find replacements in lead guitarist/backing vocalist Jake Stamoulis and drummer Jared Pease. And so they began 2020 with a new lineup and fresh optimism toward the future.

Well, we all know what happened beginning in early Spring of 2020: shows got cancelled, studio sessions ground to a halt, and everyone isolated themselves at home. Fortunately, the band still had several songs in their arsenal, and managed to record “CTRL”, which they released as their latest single on June 5th. The song sees Heavenly Faded exploring a heavier sound than on their previous releases, with a darker, grungier feel befitting the lyrics that speak to a lack of control and a voice adequate enough to rise up against authoritarianism.

The guitar work is superb, with LP and Jake serving up layers of intricate riffs in a plethora of textures ranging from grimy fuzz to shimmery reverb to bluesy wails. Then there’s Rijk’s grungy, throbbing bassline providing the driving force for the song, which along with Jared’s aggressive drums, keeps the hard-hitting rhythm on full throttle. As new lead vocalist, LP steps up to the plate here and delivers the rock goods. His vocals are deeper and more raw than the band’s previous vocalist, contributing nicely to the track’s edgier vibe as he almost snarls the biting lyrics expressing his weariness about having to make decisions, but being even more frustrated about not having much of a voice in the democratic process:

I hear you callin’ my name
Old ways are hard to change
I know I was born in control
I bleed myself dry to get rid of it all

I don’t wanna be in control x2

So you got no one to blame?
Clear the way, only you remain
Or the bloodthirsty, heathens in power
Who just wanna drain you like the plague

But I wanna be in control
I wanna be in control x2
Crawling outta this hole
Gonna rise up and save my soul

I wanna be in control / Who’s gonna save my soul?
(repeated)

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Stream their music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud
Purchase:  Google PlayBandcamp

BRETT.GRANT.5 – Single Review: “Burning Fire”

Brett Grant

One of the joys of having a music blog is being able to give independent and unsigned artists some free press and hopefully expose them and their music to a wider audience. An artist I’m particularly fond of is Chicago-based singer-songwriter and composer Brett Grant, who goes by the artistic moniker brett.grant.5. Drawing from a wide range of musical sources and genres, ranging from 1920’s jazz and classical to video game music and experimental progressive rock, his sound is edgy, unorthodox and fascinating. And his brutally-honest and personal lyrics explore some of the darker sides of life, society, and mental health.

Brett’s been making music for many years, both as a solo artist and as a member of several bands. He plays guitars & synths and sings vocals for A Million Rich Daughters, and previously pounded drums in Sleep For Dinner and TOOFUNCHILD. In addition to his work with the aforementioned bands, as well as earning a B.A. Degree in Music last year, he’s released two solo EPs – digital dirge in 2016 and disqui.etude in 2019 (read my review here). Now he returns with “Burning Fire“, his first new single in a year.

The song is a repudiation of the religious dogma that keeps people enslaved on so many different levels – mentally, socially, culturally and physically. Brett explained that the song “is about rejecting concepts we’ve been force-fed, and trying to unveil the truth through all the lies. The ‘burning fire’ [refers to] the self-righteous light that the hyper-religious shine upon the world, casting dark shadows that create monsters.” As someone who was raised Catholic but am now Atheist, the lyrics strongly resonate with me. I’m always suspect when people invoke god and religion to legitimize their oppression of others, or to further their hateful racist, homophobic or exclusionary agendas.

Musically, Brett uses a complex and dramatic mix of harsh, psychedelic and spooky industrial synths, along with a hypnotic drumbeat to create a dark, ominous soundscape befitting the scathing lyrics. His vocals are equally menacing as he practically snarls his verses, yet there are moments of haunting beauty too, especially in the bridge where he plaintively implores “the world ends with you / the world ends with me / the world ends with us / at least we’ll all be free.”

Like many electronic songs with experimental and progressive rock elements , I found that “Burning Fire” gets better with each listen, as I discovered more nuances in both its melodic structure and the array of instruments and sounds used in the song. Brett will be donating all proceeds from purchases of the song to Black Lives Matter Chicago.

in underlying tunnels in my head
disqualifying thoughts all painted red
creatures undying I can’t regulate
identifying efforts to castrate

your burning fire’s been oscillating
the shadows discharged are starting to take hold
your burning fire is suffocating
nightmarish monsters eroding self-control

emulsifying actions and my thoughts
i’m patronizing the stations of the cross
the underlying message won’t come clean
but I’ve been spying actions so obscene
yeah I’ve been trying to fight this dissonance
by qualifying the sacrifice I’ve spent
the mystifying stories I’ve been told
unsatisfying, removing my blindfold

your burning fire’s been oscillating
the shadows discharged are starting to take hold
your burning fire is suffocating
nightmarish monsters eroding self-control

the world ends with you
the world ends with me
the world ends with us
at least we’ll all be free
the world ends with you
the world ends with me
the world ends with us
at least we’ll all be free
the world ends with you
the world ends with me

your burning fire’s been oscillating
the shadows discharged are starting to take hold
your burning fire is suffocating
nightmarish monsters eroding self-control

Follow Brett: Twitter / Facebook / Instagram
Stream his music on  Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase on Bandcamp / Apple MusicGoogle Play

New Song of the Week – HAZY: “Swimming Closer”

Hazy

Since the release of his debut single “Dragonfly” in 2017, Manchester, England-based singer-songwriter HAZY has watched his star rise on the British music scene. Born in Hong Kong and raised in Chalfont St Giles, he’s loved music since he was a young child, and taught himself to play piano by ear. He followed “Dragonfly” with his gorgeous dream pop single “Silverplate” in 2018, receiving play on BBC Radio Stoke, and in 2019, he launched his debut EP Crystal Disguise to a packed crowd at the iconic Manchester nightclub Gullivers. This past April, he released his single “Arcade”, which has received airplay on numerous radio stations throughout the UK and on KB Radio Canada. Now he returns with a brand new single “Swimming Closer” which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week.

He wrote and recorded the song at home in his bedroom during the COVID-19 lockdown, as a reaction to the cabin fever he was feeling. He explains “I wrote the track when I was feeling pretty down about the whole lockdown situation, and since then life has been unbelievably strange. Whilst the song is light and energetic to the unsuspecting listener, there is a deeper connection to the struggle that we have all endured during the lockdown. The song helped me feel more optimistic. I hope it makes you feel the same way too.

The track was co-produced by Andy Gannon, who has worked with such artists as Robbie Williams, Rudimental and Clean Bandit, and hearkens back to the beautiful and melodic sounds of “Silverplate”. With its catchy melody and infectious toe-tapping beat, the song has a sunny vibe that makes it a great track for summer, despite its rather poignant lyrics. The colorful swirling synths that continue throughout the song are terrific, and I especially love the piano and guitar notes in the choruses. HAZY’s vocals are great too, with just a hint of reverb effect that works really well on this song. He beautifully expresses both a sense of frustration and vulnerability in the verses, and a hopeful optimism in the choruses. It’s a wonderful song that stayed stuck in my mind long after hearing it, and that’s a good thing!

Think I’m losing my mind
If I’m never gonna get this chance at life
I lie awake at night
I’ll figure out if it was real or right

Oh yeah, I’m swimming closer than I’ve ever swam before
I’m scared of swimming closer than I anticipated 

Hey, through the radio most of you will never know
The problem of losing your faith
We’re all a statistic, but let’s stay optimistic
So I don’t have to cry to sleep

Oh yeah, I’m swimming closer than I’ve ever swam before
I’m scared of swimming closer than I anticipated 

I’m all messed up today
I’ve got to find a way so I don’t fall asleep in the streets
Didn’t get the memo so I didn’t say hello
And now I’m feeling less complete

Oh yeah, I’m swimming closer than I’ve ever swam before
I’m scared of swimming closer than I anticipated 

Think I’m losing my mind
If I’m never gonna get the chance at life
I lie awake at night
I’ll figure out if it was real or right
I’m swimming closer than I’ve ever swam before

Oh yeah, I’m swimming closer than I’ve ever swam before
I’m scared of swimming closer than I anticipated

Follow HAZY:  FacebookTwitterInstagram
Stream his music:  SpotifySoundcloudApple Music
Purchase: Google PlayAmazon

JAMES BAKIAN – Single Review: “Kiss Tonight”

James Bakian Kiss Tonight

One of the youngest artists I’ve had the pleasure of featuring on this blog over the past couple of years is the remarkably talented British singer-songwriter James Bakian. (You can check out my previous reviews, which are listed under ‘Related’ at the bottom of this page.) Based in London, England, the hard working and charismatic teen began writing songs and playing piano as a child, and released his first EP in 2016 when he was only 13. He writes all his lyrics and music, records and/or programs all the instruments, and even produces and mixes his own songs. Since 2016, the prolific young artist has released a second EP and more than 20 singles!

Now he returns with his latest single “Kiss Tonight“, which drops today, June 5. It’s a romantic, feel-good love song about the strong feelings of desire you get when you’re around that one special person, but also a bit frustrated that they’re being slow to respond in kind. Like many of his songs, the melody is driven by his jazzy piano keys, accompanied by warm synth bass and mellow, toe-tapping percussive beats. James adds funky guitar notes and ethereal swirling keyboard synths to the mix, creating a lovely musical backdrop for his smooth vocals.

I’ve been following James for well over three years, and it’s been gratifying to see him mature and grow professionally. Not only has the quality of his songwriting continued to improve, but as he’s gotten older the sweetly innocent vocals of his early teens have nicely matured into a rich and deep baritone that sounds more soulful than ever. Despite the fact he’s still only 16, his beautiful resonant vocals convey a maturity and confidence that makes us believe him when he sings of his ardor:

I’ve been waiting for this
Endless searching for it
Everything I wanted
I need someone who I’ll miss tonight
I need someone I might kiss tonight
Oh yeah
Just give me your all
Give me everything
I won’t hesitate
I need someone I might miss tonight
I need someone I might kiss tonight

Now I’m waiting for you to say something
But you’re not giving me what I wanted
So I’ll sit back and wait for you
Wait for you to make your move
Cause it’s impossible to ignore you
I could try but I really don’t want to
Yeah you got me feeling the blues
I got nothing better to do

Tell me what you want
I mean come on there’s gotta be something
somebody who you can trust in
Oh
Tell me what you need
Maybe I could supply it for you
in my head I just wanna adore you

“Kiss Tonight” is another stellar single, and I see only a continued upward trajectory for this very talented young artist.

Connect with James:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music on  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music / YouTube
Purchase on  iTunes / Google Play

New Song of the Week – SECRET AMERICAN: “Here Comes A Man”

Secret American4

Secret American is a delightfully unique band I’ve grown to love over the past year or so, ever since being introduced to them and their music by another blogger. They’re a bi-coastal band, born from the collaboration of singer/songwriter and guitarist Derek Krzywicki, who lives in the small town of Carpinteria on the California coast east of Santa Barbara, and his long-time friend Todd Mecaughey, a producer/engineer and musician from Philadelphia. Despite their distance, they began working together on music fairly regularly for over a year in Philadelphia, as well as collaborating through the internet from their home studios, and eventually formed Secret American. Using songs Derek had written previously, the two created their debut 2018 album Warmth & Shelter (which I reviewed in March 2019). The band was gradually expanded to a seven-member lineup with the addition of Katie Frank, Tony Unander, Alex Baranowski, Rory Geoghegan and Jon McNally.

Their refreshing, laid-back sound is at once retro yet contemporary, eccentric yet familiar. While their song lyrics often address serious subjects that make us think, they’re presented with sunny melodies, breezy instrumentation and pleasing vocals that make for happy listening experience. Since the release of Warmth & Shelter, Secret American has been recording and releasing new singles that will eventually be included on their second album. Their latest is “Here Comes a Man“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week.

The song opens with a rather pensive trumpet, then settles into a languid tempo, highlighted by a strong, thumping drumbeat and wonderful twangy guitar notes. With seven musicians contributing to the music, we hear all sorts of instruments and sounds, including horns, snare drums, keyboard synths, guitar and bass. But perhaps the most striking of them all are the occasional reverb-heavy distorted guitar chords that punctuate the proceedings from time to time, adding a touch of danger to the otherwise sunny upbeat vibe.

I love Derek’s smooth singing voice, which registers in the higher octaves just below a falsetto. He sounds appropriately seductive as he sings the great come-on lyrics to a woman he finds attractive, urging her to ditch the man she’s with and give him a chance instead:

Hello, I’ve seen your face before, I don’t recall your name
You’re looking at me too long through a glass of champagne
I’m a greyhound headin’ at ya, making all the stops
I’m a loosening my collar, I’m a drinking on the rocks
But the man right next to you, who is that man?
Is he making you happy, doesn’t look like he can
So I’m a walk right to ya, gonna pass that man
My eyes wide open

Here comes a man (x3)
Here I come

“Here Comes a Man” is another terrific song from this incredibly talented group of musicians. Their superb songwriting and musicianship never fail to amaze me, and so long as they continue to produce such great songs, I shall remain a devoted fan.

Connect with Secret American on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes / Google Play

CROSSFLOW & IAMWARFACE – Single Review: “Take the Shot”

British electro-rock group IAMWARFACE is one of my favorite indie bands, with an aggressive name that’s a perfect descriptor for their bombastic and edgy groove-based sound. I’ve written about the Brighton & London-based band numerous time on this blog over the past four years, most recently last August (2019) when I reviewed their magnificent album Year of the Dragon. Their creative and charismatic front man Matt Warneford recently teamed up with Bedfordshire-based musician/producer Crossflow (aka Karl Morey) to collaborate on a spectacular new song “Take the Shot“, which drops today. Crossflow co-produced, mixed and mastered Year of the Dragon, and was eager to work with Warneford again: “Been working with these guys for a while in a production capacity so it was only a matter of time until Matt and I got writing, both being filthy electronic shouty guitar bastards.

Matt Warneford
Matt Warneford

Crossflow composed the music and arrangement for “Take the Shot”, then sent it on to Warneford, who wrote and sang the lyrics. The song features the explosive dynamics, darkly beautiful melodies and always-lurking sense of danger typically found on many IAMWARFACE songs, but Crossflow injects layers of harsh industrial synths into the mix, giving the track an even more ominous Nine Inch Nails feel. Underlying the whole thing is a crushing dubstep-style beat that would make The Prodigy proud. The result is a bombastic and spooky soundscape for Warneford’s electrifying vocal gymnastics. He’s an amazing vocalist, with the ability to sooth us with a beautiful croon one moment, then chill us to the bone with a feral rawness the next as he snarls “Take the shot, suck it up!

I’m not certain, but the very dark lyrics seem to be from the perspective of a vampire, or possibly a zombie, stuck in an afterlife filled with regret:

I cannot breathe, I cannot feel
Just waiting here in the afterlife
These wounds won’t heal
My lips are sealed
Face up against the cage
Like you and everybody else
(Alright)

I’ve loved every single song by IAMWARFACE, and “Take the Shot” is no exception. So crank up the volume and have a listen for yourself!

Follow IAMWARFACE:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes / Google Play

Follow Crossflow:  FacebookTwitterInstagram
Stream/Purchase his music:  SpotifyApple MusicGoogle Play